Kitchen cabinet materials can be broken down into three basic types of components: the actual cabinet material, the hardware, and the countertop. How these three elements are combined, along with the cabinet size and linear footage, establish how much a homeowner will pay for his or her cabinets.
Modest budget kitchen cabinets will have a lot of particle board in them. Particle board (referred to as chipboard in the United Kingdom) is covered with a thin wood veneer in exposed areas to give it the appearance of real wood. When used in the kitchen it should be well sealed because it is like a sponge – it will soak up any available moisture and swell up.
Particle board is composed of chips of wood combined with a resin bonding agent. The mixture is pressed into sheets and then cut into the desired dimensions. The fact that the chips can be discards from other processes or from wood not of high enough quality accounts for its low price. The trade off for its low price is moisture susceptibility as mentioned above, and the fact that it doesn’t hold screws well.
One step up in quality and price is plywood. Plywood is very strong due to the fact that the grain of the layers alternate direction. It is generally covered with a veneer also. Plywood is much better than particle board at holding screws and has a much higher resistance to moisture.
Solid wood is highly desirable for kitchen cabinets. It is more expensive than plywood, of course, but doesn’t need to be covered with a veneer. The wood species vary from low end such as pine to very high end such as oak, mohagany, walnut, and pecan.
Kitchen cabinet hardware is available in a mind-boggling number of choices and price ranges. Styles range from contemporary to antique. Drawer pulls, hinges (when visible), and items such as towel hangers are usually matched.
The material they are made from varies. Brass is always a popular choice. Other materials include steel, aluminum, and even glass. Many drawer pulls are ceramic, either plain or with graphics on them.
Many of these fall into the antique-looking category. An inexpensive and yet time-tested finish for hardware is a matte or hammered finish. This gives the cabinets an antique or rustic look, especially when combined with knotty pine.
Cabinet tops have a huge impact on the cost of the cabinets. But the material can be expensive and cabinet tops have the highest visual impact of any of the three cabinet components, so it makes sense.
On the high end of the price range are the solid stones such as granite and marble. These are very trendy today but both the material and installation are expensive.
Corian, a Dupont product, is a great alternative to solid stone. It looks like stone, but is in fact a plastic material. Its benefits in the kitchen are the fact that it is non-porous, it’s easy to clean, and best of all, it’s heat resistant. It is less expensive than stone but still adds to the home’s value.
Laminates, such as Formica, are the standard for counter tops. It is relatively inexpensive, easy to work with, and easy to maintain. Most prefab kitchen cabinets (contractor grade) come with laminate counter tops. The laminate is simply glued to the plywood base and is a great project for the DIY’er to tackle.
Image of cabinets by OK-59